For most of this century, Americans have been fleeing the farm and flocking to the city. But for more than a decade, more Americans have been moving away from cities and established suburbs than to them. The author, a national correspondent for The New York Times, looks at how this scattering, the most surprising revelation of the 1980 census, is affecting politics, the environment and government. The new low-density development is occurring in college towns, along remote country roads, rivers and reservoirs, and on marginal farmlands from southern New Hampshire to the Ozarks to sparsely populated areas of the Southwest and backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. North Carolina is prototypical of this diffused, fragmented new form of American community, as well as the ""New Right"" brand of conservatism that has gone along with it. Herbers is convinced that rural migration is not a passing fad, that it is a search for space and independence, not affordable housing, and that it is bringing more socioeconomic --though not racial--mixing than suburbia ever did. However, he points out that it is a serious threat to the cities, and wonders whether the nation can continue to pay for both new highways, sewers and schools for the far-flung settlements and the repair of deteriorating infrastructures of older urban and suburban areas. Herbers also notes that our representative government is being fragmented as the new developments spill over a complex array of jurisdictions, and questions whether the traditional rural character and natural environment of the ""new heartland"" can be preserved. Nevertheless, Herbers seems to believe population dispersal presents a unique opportunity for Americans to build communities that foster diversity, continuity with the past and a balance of nature and development. A rather sanguine assessment, given that in the past this always has required regulation--a form of government intervention the conservative, self-reliant new rural settlers are unlikely to accept.